Old 03-22-2016, 03:08 AM   #1
Dennis A. Livesey
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Default Composition thoughts...

On another thread I posted this link:

http://petapixel.com/2016/01/30/10-m...ule-of-thirds/

And it started a little conversation.

Before I understood ROT, my shots were catch-as-catch-can. Some of my shots from the 70's, 80's 90's, I can actually show people. However, I really had no skill and what worked was as much luck as anything.

ROT changed all that for me. With it, I learned the basics of composition. Virtually all of my recent recognizable shots were made with this rule.

So seeing this headline that ROT is a bad idea did hit me.

I disagree for I think ROT is a great teaching tool that newbies can grasp.

I do think that exploring other compositional methods is the way to go once you have mastered ROT and need to breathe fresh air into your work.

This shot is an early ROT of mine.

Image © Dennis A. Livesey-liveseyimages.com
PhotoID: 363911
Photograph © Dennis A. Livesey-liveseyimages.com


This one is, well, I don't know the name of the type of composition it is but is one of my current attempts to adopt a new way of looking.

Image © Dennis A. Livesey
PhotoID: 569939
Photograph © Dennis A. Livesey


I did read the Malcolm Gladwell, "Outliers." It was helpful to me. I took it that 10,000 hours was what it took for an individual to achieve their best. I did not take it that if you do 10,000 hours you will be a superstar.

This also dovetailed with what one of photography's greatest practitioners, Henri Cartier Bresson said, "Your first 10,000 pictures are your worst."

Well, for me who did not dive into train photography intensely in my teens, it did take about 10,000 of my pictures before I got the hang of it.

What are the ways you compose?
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Old 03-22-2016, 03:26 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dennis A. Livesey View Post
This one is, well, I don't know the name of the type of composition it is but is one of my current attempts to adopt a new way of looking.

Image © Dennis A. Livesey
PhotoID: 569939
Photograph © Dennis A. Livesey
I think of it as block geometric. I also think of the rule of the golden rectangle, or golden proportion, or whatever. The 1.61:1 thing. And I remember how that concept nests down, and so I think of your shot as being nested proportional rectangles - although I don't think you do a fixed proportion. See the Golden Proportions section on this page (and the Golden Spirals is interesting too!)

https://24ways.org/2010/golden-spirals/
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Old 03-22-2016, 03:29 AM   #3
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My basic building block is usually a simple foreground/background thing of one sort or another, or at least that comes to mind first.
Image © Janusz Mrozek
PhotoID: 568707
Photograph © Janusz Mrozek

Image © Janusz Mrozek
PhotoID: 569350
Photograph © Janusz Mrozek

Image © Janusz Mrozek
PhotoID: 564711
Photograph © Janusz Mrozek
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Old 03-22-2016, 12:56 PM   #4
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I have a fondness for symmetry. Since I came to DSLR from using 4x5 and a Hassleblad, I also seem to have a natural inclination to shoot square. Both are still having a big impact on me. I still use the 4x5, although only shoot b&w with it now. Other things I like are simplicity, and cropping in close much of the time. My biggest turn off on choo-choo photos are ones where the train is about an inch away from leaving the frame. Hate those shots! Why not just use a wider lens?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/968260...posted-public/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/968260...posted-public/


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Old 03-22-2016, 12:57 PM   #5
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My basic building block is usually a simple foreground/background thing of one sort or another, or at least that comes to mind first.

I call those "train with" shots. They add a sense of scale and place. I generally don't like shots that are just engines.


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Old 03-23-2016, 04:57 AM   #6
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That link in the first post isn't taking me anywhere useful.
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Old 03-23-2016, 09:14 AM   #7
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Here is the correct link from baggydave's Too Loose thread:

http://petapixel.com/2016/01/30/10-m...ule-of-thirds/

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Old 03-23-2016, 01:42 PM   #8
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Here is the correct link from baggydave's Too Loose thread:

http://petapixel.com/2016/01/30/10-m...ule-of-thirds/

Thanks Miningcamper1!
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Old 03-23-2016, 05:28 PM   #9
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Seems to me photo composition like poetry is terribly subjective. As your professor was trying to analyze "Ode to a Grecian Urn" weren't you a little skeptical about Keats really thinking about all that crap as he composed the poem? I suspect most good photographers were taking decent pix long before they heard about the rule of thirds. But folks with nothing better to do have to analyze stuff and create "rules". And then those rules gain far more influence than they should, probably harming the art form more than they help. Rules do not make good art. When I compare my stuff to say images by Matthew Malkiewicz, a truly gifted train photog, the differences transcend anything as mundane as rules. Matthew has "the eye", I don't. I suppose my feeling is you either have the gift or you don't. Which is not to say studying graphic design and such has no purpose, but I suspect learning to follow the rules creates mediocre artists and being inspired to break the rules creates the great ones.
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Old 03-23-2016, 09:26 PM   #10
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Seems to me photo composition like poetry is terribly subjective. As your professor was trying to analyze "Ode to a Grecian Urn" weren't you a little skeptical about Keats really thinking about all that crap as he composed the poem? I suspect most good photographers were taking decent pix long before they heard about the rule of thirds. But folks with nothing better to do have to analyze stuff and create "rules". And then those rules gain far more influence than they should, probably harming the art form more than they help. Rules do not make good art. When I compare my stuff to say images by Matthew Malkiewicz, a truly gifted train photog, the differences transcend anything as mundane as rules. Matthew has "the eye", I don't. I suppose my feeling is you either have the gift or you don't. Which is not to say studying graphic design and such has no purpose, but I suspect learning to follow the rules creates mediocre artists and being inspired to break the rules creates the great ones.
For almost 40 years as a rail photographer, I had never heard of the rule of thirds. It only came into my universe after being introduced to RP. I was fortunate to have friends/mentors who were good photographers, and would critique my work. This lead to suggestions that I have pretty much complied with throughout those 40 years:
  • Try to keep the subject along the diagonals (simplified ROT)
  • Give the train some place to go (See Kent's quote below)
  • Shoot with the sun at your back
  • An automobile in the photo is a distraction. Your own automobile in the photo is an utter failure.
  • People not related to the operation of the railroad don't belong in the photo.

Granted, several items on the list are extremely old-school, but those were the "rules" that I was taught. As I start to become more active again, I hope to learn how to break some of those rules, as I am truly inspired by the work of many on RP, and after Googling Matthew Malkiewicz, I am again impressed by another photographer that is new to me.

I probably sound like a curmudgeon by now, but that's not my intent. I'm just presenting the point of view of one who was brought up with the idea of rail photography preserving history in a visually appealing manner as opposed to creating art.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Noct Foamer View Post
My biggest turn off on choo-choo photos are ones where the train is about an inch away from leaving the frame. Hate those shots! Why not just use a wider lens?

Kent in SD

I've always operated a little differently than some of newer folks in the hobby. 99% of my photography is done with a 50mm prime lens. I had a 35mm and a long zoom, but didn't like the distortion of the wide, and a long lens was a challenge with Kodachrome, so they were just tools for very specific situations. In general, my thought process has always been, "If I can't reasonably fit the subject in the frame, I'm standing in the wrong place."


Quote:
Originally Posted by JRMDC View Post
My basic building block is usually a simple foreground/background thing of one sort or another, or at least that comes to mind first.
My methodology is to look for trees/branches, structures, or rock outcroppings that can add depth and be a framing element.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dennis A. Livesey View Post

This one is, well, I don't know the name of the type of composition it is but is one of my current attempts to adopt a new way of looking.

Image © Dennis A. Livesey
PhotoID: 569939
Photograph © Dennis A. Livesey

I love that photo - it grabbed me the first time I saw it. I find it interesting that, within a margin of error, it still complies to the ROT.
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Old 03-23-2016, 11:43 PM   #11
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Over probably the past couple of years, I have tried to become a scene shooter, quality over quantity; I get a lot more joy out of the hobby when I can find something unique along the right-of-way that gives a sense of place, something that tells a story. The train to me is merely the means to an end, it just completes the scene. Kent calls them "train with" shots, I think of it more as "....... with train". Sometimes with that, I make the choice to leave the train way over in a somewhat awkward spot if it were on its own, or leave it way back so that the main focus of my photo, whether it is a depot, a farming elevator, signals, or whatever may pique my interest, but thanks to my interpretation and utilization of the rule of thirds, the photo is correct to me (even though that means nothing to most).

I've found that in an effort to do that, a lot of the rules that Doug mentioned above have to be broken. I am of the belief, and I'm sure that everyone here will agree, that if you want to become more than just a photographer who can take perfect condition photos, then you have to be willing to break those rules and challenge your conventional view on the rule of thirds in the theory of where to place the train. I will confess I have broken them by my own stupidity, but the end result was was still so well received that it was, I guess, forgiven. I committed the utter failure in this one:
Image © Kyle Korienek
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Photograph © Kyle Korienek



I, like all of you at one point in time of another, am guilty of taking the dreaded wedgie, I find little interest with them, but, to each their own. The best photographers to me are those that have a plan and an idea, and can adjust on the fly if conditions change at the last minute for better or for worse. Finding the point of interest, developing a plan and waiting for a train that makes the plan work is the hardest part. Taking the photo: That is the easy part of photography.
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Old 03-24-2016, 01:57 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by Dennis A. Livesey View Post

This one is, well, I don't know the name of the type of composition it is but is one of my current attempts to adopt a new way of looking.

Image © Dennis A. Livesey
PhotoID: 569939
Photograph © Dennis A. Livesey

You have "the eye" Dennis.
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Old 03-24-2016, 01:07 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kyle Korienek View Post
Over probably the past couple of years, I have tried to become a scene shooter, quality over quantity; I get a lot more joy out of the hobby when I can find something unique along the right-of-way that gives a sense of place, something that tells a story. The train to me is merely the means to an end, it just completes the scene.


Before DSLRs showed up I was mostly shooting 4x5 and a Hassleblad. At the time I was able to make some money selling photos to local and regional stock agencies, especially agriculture related ones. The 4x5 gave me an advantage over most competitors who only used a 35mm. Both LF and MF format are very deliberate and demand carefully thinking through what you want to do. They lend themselves to shots that "tell a story." I've pretty much kept the slower style of shooting with my Nikon, too. I still think of myself as a "general outdoor" photographer rather than a foamer photog.

Here's a shot I took the other day that I kind of like. The train is way in the background. This shot would not work on a sunny day as I was shooting towards the south, into the sun. The nice even overcast light worked perfectly for me. It's basically a landscape, and I was going for the drama of the multiple levels of waterfalls. Lens selection was crucial; not too wide, not too tight. I could have used the Nikon 45mm PC-E lens but don't have one, so I had to stop down more than I usually like to make it work.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/968260...posted-public/


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Old 03-24-2016, 04:10 PM   #14
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Very nice composition Kent. I like how it does not fit ROT since it is all up and down. (excepting the building on the upper left of course.)
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Old 03-24-2016, 04:25 PM   #15
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Quote:
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You have "the eye" Dennis.
John, there are many photographers here that, from my senior perspective, I envy greatly. George Hamlin, Ron Flanary, Blair Kooistra, James Belmont, and of course yourself, all of you got the eye for good rail photography during your teenage years and then went on to aggressively shoot for decades. Now all of you have great collections of times that are long gone and never to be seen again.

I just wish I had had any sort "eye" then.

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Old 03-24-2016, 05:16 PM   #16
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During my research online regarding composition, there are two prevalent reactions to the discussion.

1. People who hate rules and hate to be told how to do composition.

and

2. People who say it cannot be taught.

Perhaps they are both of the same line of thinking actually.

I know there are those who do not want to intellectualize photography and feel the best way is "just do it."

I certainly would agree if that is the way it works for you, by all means.

One the other hand, I believe thinking about it and analyzing it is more satisfying for it produces results that can be repeated or improved.

The Gladwell supposition that great people need to do 10,000 hours of practice at their skill in order to attain their greatness I think is valid. I was grateful for this idea.

I took Gladwell to mean that for anyone to reach their highest possible skill level, this is what they had to do. It was borne out for me for right around the time I clicked 10,0000, things came together for me.

I did not take the Gladwell supposition to mean that anyone who practiced 10,000 hours achieves superstardom.

Everyone has a talent. The great challenge for everyone is finding that talent. Practice is the way to bring that out.

My early efforts with a SLR camera reveals I was quick at learning how to do scenics and portraits. However, try as I might, I could not get the hang of train pictures. In my late 20's early 30's, I finally was in a position to apply myself and I started to get the hang of it.

However, it was not until my 50's with digital cameras, computer processing, RailPictures.net and the Rule of Thirds that the light bulb finally clicked on.

So I definitely feel teaching, learning, practice, research all have to be a part of it.

IMHO.
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Old 03-24-2016, 05:41 PM   #17
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Like most things in life, the right path is somewhere down the middle. I suspect composition starts with some natural skills, and then you can "learn" to improve on them. I could probably say the same thing about cooking or carpentry. If you don't have a "knack" for something, you probably will never teach yourself to be really good at it.

Now that I know about it, I am a regular user of the rule of thirds although mostly on the post processing computer screen rather than in the camera view finder. But what I think is far more important than the rule of thirds is the inspiration I draw from seeing what others do, and in some case unabashedly copying their style. The internet is a wonderful learning tool because it gives you access to the work of so many good photogs.
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Old 03-24-2016, 09:40 PM   #18
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Like most things in life, the right path is somewhere down the middle. I suspect composition starts with some natural skills, and then you can "learn" to improve on them. I could probably say the same thing about cooking or carpentry. If you don't have a "knack" for something, you probably will never teach yourself to be really good at it.
My hope is that I have a good bit of scope to improve through future learning. Given how many of my better images are not planned out, captured by happenstance or are discovered by cropping on the computer - and I tend to shoot quite wide in part for this very reason - I have some doubt that I will actually learn that much more. Maybe someday the lightbulb will go off, though, and with that hope I keep trying.
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Old 03-25-2016, 04:20 AM   #19
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My hope is that I have a good bit of scope to improve through future learning. Given how many of my better images are not planned out, captured by happenstance or are discovered by cropping on the computer - and I tend to shoot quite wide in part for this very reason - I have some doubt that I will actually learn that much more. Maybe someday the lightbulb will go off, though, and with that hope I keep trying.

The most important thing I suggest for people to improve their photos is to plan their shots around the light. The light is everything. Learn to recognize the different kinds of light, different qualities, and the different moods it creates. I started by carefully analyzing the great British & Scottish landscape photographers and Jim Brandenburg. Look at the photos and ask yourself, "What direction is the light coming from? Is it soft light or harsh? What angle? What color? How did this photographer use the light in this image?" On & on. I always start with the light. Once you've figured that out, everything else will fall into place. For me, that was the lightbulb.


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Old 03-29-2016, 02:12 PM   #20
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Talking of composition, this got dinged and I think it fits
http://www.railpictures.net/viewreje...54&key=2439586
By the way Kent. Not every green tank locomotive in the UK is called Percy
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